The Na­ture of Re­cov­ery “Hip-hop is Rebel Mu­sic”

A Re­view of TNC’S The sweet est swing in base­ball

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Kate El­lis Cul­ture Writer

con­tent warn­ing: sui­cide, men­tal ill­ness, al­co­holism, im­plied vi­o­lence,

You don’t have to think hard to pic­ture the fol­low­ing im­age: you seek help for your men­tal health con­di­tion, but are not deemed “ill enough” by the doc­tor and end up barred from ac­cess to treat­ment. In The sweet est swing in base­ball, Tues­day Night Cafe’s ( TNC) most re­cent play, Dana Field­ing (Maria Jimenez) finds her­self in that pic­ture when, fol­low­ing a sui­cide at­tempt, she de­cides to pre­tend to be fa­mous base­ball player Dar­ryl Straw­berry to re­ceive fur­ther treat­ment.

Dana, an emerg­ing artist from New York, is sur­rounded by pres­sures of per­fec­tion­ism and harsh crit­i­cism from her peers. She at­tempts sui­cide and is later hos­pi­tal­ized for her de­pres­sion. While in the hos­pi­tal, she dis­cov­ers that be­cause the symp­toms she ex­hibits match those of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, she is only en­ti­tled to ten days of care un­der her in­sur­ance cover­age. Know­ing that she is not ready to go home, Dana en­lists her new friends Gary (Ai­dan Dmytriw) and Michael (An­toine Guim­bal) to help her con­vince doc­tors that she be­lieves she is Dar­ryl Straw­berry in or­der to pro­long her stay.

The play, which is Emily Sheeran’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, cap­tures a raw, re­al­is­tic de­pic­tion of men­tal ill­ness at a time when pop­u­lar shows like Thir­teen rea­sons why largely glam­our­ize it. The play il­lus­trates the ways in which self-doubt, in­se­cu­rity, and de­pres­sion hurt Dana’s craft, rather than mak­ing her seem ‘ more in­ter­est­ing.’ As some­one who has strug­gled with men­tal ill­ness, it was re­fresh­ing for me to wit­ness the ex­pe­ri­ence of a fully-fleshed char­ac­ter. Dana’s strug­gle is em­bod­ied in vac­il­lat­ing be­tween feel­ing frus­trated, sad, and un­mo­ti­vated be­cause of her ill­ness, and in her boyfriend Roy’s (Ai­dan Dmytriw) fail­ure to save her.

The tech team, di­rected by Jet El­bualy, didn’t miss a sin­gle beat — the sound­scape and light­ing were per­fectly timed and set the mood for the scenes, whether up­beat and hope­ful or raw and emo­tional. The mu­sic, com­posed by Emily Sheeran, mir­rored the com­plex range of emo­tions that some­one liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness ex­pe­ri­ences. The con­trast be­tween the care­free vibes of “Toe to Toe” by Street­light Man­i­festo and the heav­i­ness of “Lit­tle Pis­tol” by Mother Mother re­in­forced the re­al­ness of Dana’s ex­pe­ri­ence, show­ing that she is multi-faceted and that her ill­ness im­pacts her in a va­ri­ety of ways.

The hi­er­ar­chy of suf­fer­ing that The sweet est swing in base­ball re­vealed is a vivid and ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness. At the top, there is Gary, whose sadis­tic ten­den­cies make him a ‘ se­ri­ous case.’ Then, there is Michael, whose stay was ex­tended due to his ad­dic­tion. Yet, Dana, who ‘only’ ex­hibits symp­toms of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, is not per­ceived as need­ing ex­tra care and is dis­charged. Through­out the play, peo­ple in Dana’s life re­in­force the un­der­min­ing of her con­di­tion. Most no­tably, her art dealer and friend, Erica ( Arielle Shiri), in­sists that she hadn’t re­al­ized Dana was suf­fer­ing, de­spite see­ing her lack of mo­ti­va­tion to make art or to do much else. Equally, Rhonda ( Caitlin Heilig­mann), the gallery owner, begs Dana to as­sure her that she is do­ing bet­ter af­ter her hos­pi­tal stay. The ex­pec­ta­tion in the sen­ti­ment is clear: Dana should be okay, be­cause de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety aren’t seen as life- long or as se­ri­ous as the strug­gles of the likes of Gary and Michael.

The sweet est swing in base­ball grace­fully com­bined truth­ful com­men­tary on men­tal ill­ness with light- hearted com­edy. It can be chal­leng­ing to bal­ance the se­ri­ous­ness of men­tal health is­sues with the goal of good en­ter­tain­ment, but Sheeran man­aged to do so in a way that cap­tured the at­ten­tion of both those who have been im­pacted by men­tal ill­ness and those who have not. The care­fully- se­lected stag­ing, cos­tumes, and mu­sic worked with the raw emo­tional en­ergy ex­hib­ited by Maria Jimenez to cre­ate a show that took the au­di­ence out of the Mor­rice Build­ing and into a pro­fes­sional the­atre pro­duc­tion.

Al­though the show wasn’t flaw­less — there were mi­nor tech de­lays and wardrobe mal­func­tions — and de­spite the sim­plis­tic set, the emo­tional jour­ney of the play pulled through ef­fort­lessly. In fact, in some ways, the min­i­mal set took the au­di­ence’s fo­cus away from the sur­round­ings and zoomed in on the story, in­ten­si­fy­ing our con­nec­tion with the char­ac­ters.

It may seem like the end­ing is in­con­clu­sive and un­sat­is­fy­ing, but it cap­tures men­tal ill­ness in a way that a smoother end­ing could not. The im­age of Dana talk­ing to Michael while still in the per­sona of Dar­ryl Straw­berry re­minds the au­di­ence that men­tal ill­ness is re­cur­rent, con­fus­ing, and in­con­clu­sive. It re­jects the tra­di­tional trope of a clean re­cov­ery, as de­picted in movies such as It’ s kind of a funny story, where Craig Gil­ner checks into a psy­chi­atric ward and, once treated, leaves healthy. This play in­stead de­picts a non-lin­ear re­cov­ery that, al­though unattrac­tive, is more com­plex and ac­cu­rate.

The per­sona of Dar­ryl Straw­berry cre­ated by Dana starts a di­a­logue around the in­equal­i­ties in men­tal health care. Al­though never ex­plic­itly stated in the play, it is sug­gested that Dana em­bod­ies a man to avoid pre­sump­tions about hys­te­ria, hor­mones, and other ideas that im­pact how se­ri­ously women’s men­tal health is­sues are taken. The play ad­dresses this sub­tly but ef­fec­tively, and be­cause of this, it is not sur­pris­ing that Dana would wish she was in a man’s po­si­tion.

Paired with a talk­back – a chance to dis­cuss the show with the cast and crew – on Oc­to­ber 18, the show pro­vided an ex­cel­lent plat­form for con­ver­sa­tion on how so­ci­ety treats peo­ple with men­tal ill­nesses. Even though Dana finds new ways of cop­ing, a sup­port sys­tem in her friends, and a re­vived pas­sion for art, she still has to live with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. The por­trayal of men­tal ill­ness as an on­go­ing re­al­ity is one that is miss­ing in the me­dia, which of­ten fools us into be­liev­ing that treat­ing men­tal ill­ness is a jour­ney to per­ma­nent re­cov­ery. In this sense, it was re­fresh­ing to see TNC em­brace the less con­sol­ing re­al­i­ties as part of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tues­day Night Cafe con­tin­ues its sea­son with Noexit, which runs Novem­ber 15-17 and 22-24. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit TNC on Face­book.

The hi­er­ar­chy of suf­fer­ing that The Sweet­est Swing in Base­ball

re­vealed is a vivid and ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness.

Dana em­bod­ies a man to avoid pre­sump­tions about women’s men­tal health is­sues.

The play cap­tures a raw, re­al­is­tic de­pic­tion of men­tal ill­ness at a time when pop­u­lar shows like Thir­teen Rea­sons Why glam­our­ize it.

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